NEWS | Sept. 17, 2010

Officials unveil Pentagon POW/MIA exhibit

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden American Forces Press Service

Defense Department officials dedicated a portion of the Pentagon to military prisoners of war and troops missing in action Sept. 15, honoring one of the military's guiding principles: never leave a comrade behind.

Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon's policy chief, hosted the ceremony on the building's third floor.

The hallway is lined with information, artifacts and photographs underscoring the service and sacrifice of more than 80,000 MIAs and POWs from the present conflict in Afghanistan and dating back to World War II.

"No matter how far away or how long ago, we will do everything humanly possible to bring all those missing servicemembers home," Ms. Flournoy said. "We do this for the sake of their family members, and we also do this for all who serve today."

The display exhibit was designed in the corridor, because thousands of people -- servicemembers, defense civilians and tourists -- walk through it each year, Ms. Flournoy said. The exhibit's location, underscores the importance the DOD places on recovering prisoners of war and those missing in action.

"As we stand here today, many thousands of servicemen and women are deployed around the world in harm's way," she said. "And in the days and years to come, some of them will give their lives to their country. Some of them may fall into enemy hands.

"Part of what enables our men and women to focus on accomplishing their mission in harsh and dangerous environments is the knowledge that we will do whatever it takes to bring them home," she said.

World War II Army Air Forces pilot Jerry Wolf was one such servicemember. His reconnaissance plane was shot down in 1946 over Germany. Although he survived the crash, he spent 11 months in a German prison, he said.

Mr. Wolf noted that World War II veterans soon will be extinct, and displays such as the Pentagon corridor will help their legacy and service live on.

"I think the exhibit is a wonderful beginning, and the recognition is great," Mr. Wolf said, adding that he donated several letters he wrote while in the prison camp and other artifacts to the display.

"It's wonderful to be noted for your service and being an ex-prisoner of war," he said.

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert Shumaker is another former POW who attended the dedication ceremony. His fighter plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965. He spent eight years and one day in a prison camp, three of which were spent in solitary confinement.

"Sometimes you don't have a choice," Admiral Shumaker said. "When an airplane crashes, it crashes. It's a terrible feeling, [but] I always knew that I'd never be forgotten by the American people."

In the past year, the Joint Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Accounting Command has accounted for 98 servicemembers missing from the Korean War, the Vietnam War and World War II. More than 80,000 servicemembers from the three wars remain unaccounted-for. Nearly 2,000 from the same wars have been accounted for and returned to their families.

The nation celebrates National POW/MIA Recognition Day Sept. 17. Created by Congress in 1998 as part of the Defense Authorization Act, the observance is recognized on the third Friday of September each year.